Following a very pleasant and interesting exchange with Sue Wilson on Destroy the Joint Facebook page, I was emboldened to write this post on my blogspot.
I am treading on dangerous ground in some of what I say, and I expect many will not agree with much of it, but, for the sake of the future I think it must be said. As a supporter of feminist movements for close to sixty years I have viewed many waves of feminism. There has been progress. But each new wave seems to recede in a foam of extreme self interest and criticism from other females.
To ensure that this does not happen to this latest wave I think we should look at trying another way to master such destructive rips. I want to make a positive suggestion and where I am being critical it is merely in order to find an illustration. I intend to be in no way critcal of the right to express any opinion.
I suggest we should not think of our own interests in the here and now, although they are important. We should primarily focus on our daughters, or in the case of us older women, our granddaughters. Issues such as whether Australians of the Year have been primarily male do not really matter one iota. As one organizer of this award said, this is comprehensively explained by the fact that opportunities in life for women to prove themselves have been less than for men during the many years preceding the award.
We need to ensure that in a generation or two these inequalities no longer exist. And this rests on how our daughters and granddaughters are treated now. The pressures from media and marketing on very young children to conform, particularly to conform to strict gender norms, are far greater now than I have ever seen before in my lifetime. How they combat this therefore depends on what happens in the home.
The interesting exchanges between Sue Wilson and myself (and I should make it clear here, for her sake, that we only discussed the issues I mention in this particular paragraph) revealed that we both had fathers who encouraged us to be determined women who were prepared to challenge the status quo. Our discussion focused my psychological understanding of child rearing on the point we raised. Fathers’ attitudes are very significant in the development of a self image and self esteem of their daughters. This has been demonstrated often in research over a number of years.
I suggest we devote a special part of the Destroy the Joint site to invite fathers in – to share and suggest what they can do for their daughters. I think many a father would be delighted to have suggestions for a closer relationships with his young daughters, particularly a relationship not mediated by the mother. (But of course, it must also be borne in mind that the way parents treat each other, and the respect they show each other, is also very significant to the children’s development.) Fathers who set a good example in that area whilst also developing children’s interest in sport, their interest in politics, the expression of opinions, the hobbies or professions in which they themselves are interested; lead those children by example. And when men give their sons and daughters the belief that they can participate equally in these activities the battle is almost won.
I have been discouraged, at very brief moments, by a few posts on Destroy the Joint. I have desperately hoped that the rip is not starting to drag some of us out to sea and once again to separate us women (some with their children). The example I have chosen may be a controversial one but it illustrates what I mean so why not have a good discussion about it! A few, a very few, of the comments about breast feeding slightly disturbed me. The view that women have a very special role in the on going rearing of children that is impossible for others to fulfill particlarly disturbs me. However it is undeniable that only women can breast feed. Breast feeding is very important for children. To me it is axiomatic that there can be no possible harm done to anyone by public breast feeding or by the choice to feed a child or children for some years. However, when the role of the breast, practical as well as metaphorical, is extended beyond feeding to the comforting of toddlers and to the almost exclsive togetherness of a toddler and his mother, then it appears to me, as a child psychologist, that this is more for the mother’s sake and is not necessarily for the benefit of the child’s continuing development. There are two results that can ensue from this attitude. Firstly for the woman who, being constantly with a child will not be able to play a role in other areas of her life as an equal to a man during this time children are young. She will therefore remain somewhat behind the equivalent male in terms of career and so forth. This must be her choice. But the second is for the child. This means he or she will have less of an opportunity for close, long, individual times with a father and other adults such as grandparents (unless the mother is willing to express her milk whilst they are apart). This affects the child and that child’s relationships so cannot be the mother’s exclusive choice.
When it is directly stated that breast feeding is being used specifically for the comforting of a toddler I become very worried. Leaving aside the fact that food is not an ideal comforter, developing the notion that he or she is a separate entity from the mother is a vital step in every child’s development. The capacity to be comforted by others and to develop the art of self comforting is an important part in this progression. Particularly in the frequently seen nuclear family, the father is a very significant part of this growth.
We talk of glass ceilings and positive discrimination. Some very special women have crashed through glass ceilings. Others have not needed positive discrimination. I suspect that most of these women have been close to their fathers and were brought up receiving very positive messages from him and/or other important male figures in their lives.
If they have children of their own I am sure the fathers of these children and other loving adults have played significant roles in their care.
Can we stop this particular rip tide that has many times separated women from one another on the issue of feminism and agree that equality has to be a two way street and that we need to encourage the fathers of our children, particularly our daughters, to play a big role in their lives from an early age?
The younger generation have an interesting future to face. They already deal with a system of information exchange never before seen. They will deal with an increasingly global world and the problems of climate change. I have faith that young girls of today together with their brothers, can make this work.
Most fathers care about the future of their daughters. Let us give them (and those mothers who are not so aware of the importance of his role) a lead as to how they can help their daughters to the best ever start in life. With us they can co-teach them how to destroy the joint for the betterment of, not only the women of the future, but of the world. Who knows, with their help we might even stop the feminist tide from receding once again.